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Developmental Trajectories of Legal Socialization Among Serious Adolescent Offenders

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To better examine legal socialization as a developmental process, it is necessary to study a sample of juvenile offenders over time. This study advances our understanding of legal cynicism and legitimacy in several, ways. First, we focus on adolescents. Second, this study is the first to examine legal socialization over time in a developmental framework showing the stability or change in these domains during a critical developmental transition from late adolescence to early adulthood. Third, we examine legal socialization among active offenders.

Accordingly, we analyze data from a juvenile court sample of adolescent offenders charged with serious crimes. Using data from four waves of interviews over eighteen months, we analyze variation in the developmental trajectories of two specific dimensions of legal socialization: legal cynicism and legitimacy. We next identify factors that might relate to the different developmental trajectories. To the best of our knowledge, the current investigation provides the first set of data on the longitudinal, within-individual patterning of two aspects of legal socialization among adolescents, specifically serious youthful offenders, a particularly important theoretical and policy-relevant group.